A couple of months ago a friend sent me an email with a very clear request – I’m going to be in the UK for a conference, take me hiking; it was as simple as that. Not only was the request very simple, it came with a location: my friend (Yuval) heard about Crib Goch and wanted to try it. After several scheduling attempts, a weekend in August was set, but then the logistical frenzy began – how can you get the most trip out of your trip when you have roughly 36 hours to get to Snowdonia, enjoy it and get back?
In general, getting to Snowdonia via public transportation (my preferred method) is a real pain, and if coming from London, very expensive. Snowdonia is serviced by a mountain bus (Sherpa bus) that can be picked at Betws y Coed and leaves every 30 minutes. The trains to Betws y Coed come from Llandundo Junction every 3 (!) hours, and getting to Llandundo Junction from London takes 4 hours – and if not purchased well in advance, will cost £86 per person. In summary: roughly 5-6 hours of travelling from London will cost £60-£100 per person to get to Pen-Y-Pass (the gateway to Snowdon). In a car it is a 5 hour drive from central London, and depending on your vehicle and fuel, the cost can can be reasonable. I don’t own a car so we rented a car in Oxford (where my friend was based) and drove to Snowdon. That journey, including rental and fuel, cost us £120 for 2 people including an upgraded insurance in case the car was damaged while parked at the side of the road. This is both cheaper and more convenient (if you don’t mind driving) than public transportation.
What was the plan then? Get to Snowdonia by lunch time Saturday, climb Snowdon via Crib Goch, wild camp in the area and do another walk up the eastern fells of Snowdonia back to the car. That plan mostly worked, but the weather, low cloud and heavy traffic at certain places required some adjustments:
We arrived to Snowdonia at 13:00 and parked just before Llyn Pen-y-Gwryd (there is a stopping bay that is not a paid one – all the ones after that are), so we parked and did final gear and food adjustments.
Since we wanted to camp high and walk up Crib Goch later in the afternoon to avoid the crowds, we found a nice little off trail walk to Llyn (lake) Cwmffynnon for a warm up. We left the car and crossed the road to the stile north of the road. The trail exists for a short while heading north near the river, but after crossing a small footbridge it disappears. Keeping near the eastern banks of the river, we climbed slowly up the slope through groves of ferns to reach a big rock and a fast flowing ford.
After a quick coffee break and water filtering session, we carefully forded the Cwmffynnon river and headed west to the little lake. The way was wet and muddy, but the rain that welcomed us out of the car had stopped and was replaced by a humid, cool wind. Making our way to the Llyn, we circled it on the eastern bank, marveling the location at the foot of Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr. It is easy to see how the climb between the two peaks will make a superb winter climb.
Past the Llyn it is easy to pick the trail heading south to Pen-y-Pass and we descended to the busy and over commercialized parking area. A quick cross and with repeated looks from fellow walkers, we joined the infamous, well marked and busy Pyg Track. The trail was easy (especially after dragging Yuval through wet and boggy cross country) to follow and walk, with many people in extremely inappropriate attire passing us in the other direction on their way back to the parking lot. After 1.8km of easy climbing we reached the base of Crib Goch and the debate started on whether to do it or not. Crib Goch is a nice and exposed grade 1 scramble that I have done a few times in the past; in bad weather (wet/windy) it can get dicey and become a grade 2, and with inexperienced walkers even become a grade 3. I wasn’t very worried about the scramble as both Yuval and I are pretty fit and have some climbing experience, but upon arriving to the base of the trail it was clear that the whole way would be in a low cloud. Crib Goch can be done while in a cloud – some will say it is easier as you don’t see how exposed and high you are – but we decided that the great views from the Pyg track were more inviting than the physical challenge of Crib Goch.
Following the Pyg track we continued to enjoy the trail and the views, though it was regularly spoiled by large groups of tourists who had a complete disregard for nature, other people and avoiding littering. A few kms more and we ended up climbing into the low cloud that surrounded the ridge; the constant climb had us fully sweating due to the humidity. The climb was hard given the pace we were setting (5km/h), but we managed to pace the masses and reach the top as most were leaving.
Sadly, the top of Snowdon was still cloud-bound and the rude and noisy tourists made the top unbearable. Grumpy to be denied the tranquility of reaching a peak, we stumbled away from the large cafe with its train to the top and groups clad in plastic bags and headed south. I personally have been to Snowdon several times, but it always part of a work related trip, so I never had a chance to explore the place on my own. The problem with being on someone else’s itinerary is that you usually end up seeing the same places, so I had never been south of the Snowdon peak – and what a miss it was!
We picked up the Rhyd Ddu path and once away from the bustle of the top, stopped for a cup of tea and a much-needed break. We were finally back into the Welsh natural beauty, enjoying the solitude that the low cloud offered. We were passed by a handful of people who seemed to know what they are doing, but otherwise, just enjoyed the tea and conversation. We picked up the path again and headed south along the ridge the goes through the Bwlch Main knife. Just as we reached the knife, the clouds had started opening and we got the great view of one side still in cloud and the other clear – what a surreal view.
A km south of the summit, the path splits into a slightly messy mix of trails, so we had to find our way to the trail we needed. The actual path stays close to the trig point (931) and is not supposed to contour it from the west. From here it was a slippery descent on the slate rocks to our camp for the night – a disused quarry on the pass at Bwlch-Cwn Llan. We continued to enjoy the views as the clouds moved on and the wind swept in, talking about geology (Yuval is a geologist), rock formation and the amazing discoveries that he and his partner (she is also a geologist) are making.
When we reached Bwlch-Cwn Llan we set camp and prepared dinner: sausages, rice with vegetables, fresh tomatoes and some fine ale.
Usually my meals consist of freeze dried or quick to make food and this felt like a real feast. Combined with the lightweight Alite Mayfly camp chairs and my big Hilerberg Anjan 2 GT tent it felt like true glamping – wild glamping. The views over dinner were amazing and the wind had picked up a little, sending the midges away, making for great evening all together. After packing up we jumped into the tent early for some chatting, just as the rain came in.
The night between Saturday and Sunday
The reason I’m adding the actual night is because it was a real eventful night. That night the weather forecast (which I didn’t look into very well) suggested a high chance of strong gale winds; up to 60mph on the mountains. Had I known that, I wouldn’t have chosen a mountain pass at 530m.
At 22:30 the wind started to pick up, along with the rain, quickly becoming a constant gale battering the tent – needless to say, neither one of us managed to fall asleep. Dozing in and out (me) and staying jumpy all night (Yuval), we stayed that way until 3:30, when I finally awakened to a feeling of large pressure on my side of the tent – the front vestibule had collapsed due to the pegs having been pulled out by the storm. Frantically we both jumped into our boots in our t-shirts and underwear, running around in the gale and rain fixing the tent. Pegs were replaced, guy lines added and many slate slabs piled on the pegs (luckily we were near a quarry). After fixing the tent and jumping back in, I realized we were probably missing gear and I ran around hoping the fence between us and the lake had caught any flying parts – and had no luck except one of our waterproof jackets.
Cold and tired I gave up on an early morning search and jumped back to the sleeping bag, wet and cold. After reinforcing the tent, sleep came quickly and we were up, though tired, at 7:00.
Good weather and the sun got us up and we quickly broke camp while having coffee, biscuits and doing some more gear hunting. We managed to find all of the lost gear (but for 1 peg) from the night ordeal scattered around the pass, so I was content again. By 7:20 we were starting our descent east to Afon valley. As we negotiated the slippery and steep climb off the pass, we decided that we were happy to have an easier day after our night ordeal and avoid any more fell climbing – we would stay low and head north in the valley around Llyn Gwynant.
When we reached the bottom of the slope we found quite a few fellow wild campers on the valley floor who may or may not have had a better night than us. The trail was easy to pick and we had a nice casual walk for 1.5km until reaching a ruined house on the river where we had breakfast. Breakfast followed the wild glamping theme we had started and consisted of fresh bacon baps with tomatoes – a perfect way to start the day – and another coffee.
The way from here was easy and humid, heading down to Beddgelert along the Watkin path. The way winded down past ferns in an almost tropical environment and we passed several groups of scouts lumbering to the mountain under big backpacks. From Beddgelert we took the road north past the campsite and then onto a clear route heading north past the houses. The trail then climbs to the northern banks of Llyn Gwynant through a beautiful old woodland that offered several views onto the lake.
As we reached the northern edge of the lake, we were once again been greeted by many people (lots of late risers) who were using the campsite as a base to explore the area, some to do water sports on the lake and many walkers (sadly the majority of them ill prepared for a day in the mountains). Past the campsite the trail quickly became quiet again and we crossed the road near the hydroelectric station over Afon Glaslyn.
We got on to the 4×4 road heading east and joined the approach road to the A498 back to Pen-y-Gwryd. At this point the low cloud was back with a light drizzle and we were once again soaked from the rain and sweat. After 2km we joined the road and turned past the hotel back to our car and another quick coffee break before leaving Snowdonia and the long journey home.
It was only 24 hours in Snowdonia but I got to see the highlights and also explore areas I had never been to and seem to be rarely explored by others. Even the wild night and crazy weather were great – they were part of the adventure.